Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Is Baltimore's Diversity Good or Destructive?

Something that makes Baltimore unique from any other city in America and any other city in the world, for that matter, is its diversity. Not restricted to the citizens, Baltimore's diversity is something that is very tangible and is illustrated via the numerous neighborhoods. In Laura Lippman's novel, Butcher's Hill, her main character, Tess Monaghan, gives the reader a little insight to all of these different areas: "Roland Park looked down on Tuxedo Park, which felt itself superior to Evergreen, where people fretted they would be mistaken for Hampden-ites, whose feelings were hurt by the suggestion that they lived in Remington, where people sneered at Pigtown (Lippman, 187)." The term "checker-board city," has come up many times in our class discussion about Baltimore. One minute, you could be driving through Mt. Vernon or Charles Village and the next, your doors will be locked, and windows rolled up as you pass through Govans. Such diversity is what gives Baltimore its charm. Let's face it, the city would be completely different if it were comprised solely of the Inner Harbor and Fell's Point.

However, it is this diversity that Jane Jacobs warns us about in her novel, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. As we have learned from her novel thus far, cities go through different periods of growth. At times they progress, at others they retrogress. Jacobs discusses her theory of the "self-destruction of diversity," which can be defined as a city's ability to destroy itself as a result of the various levels of success a city enjoys based on its diversity within. This occurs when a particular neighborhood undergoes a period of re-growth, attracting a large number to it, while it establishes itself as a population center. "This is a force that creates has-been districts, and is responsible for much inner-city stagnation and decay (Jacobs, 242)." Baltimore has been praised in recent years for the revitalization of the Inner Harbor. Well, that's all fine and great, but what about the blocks upon blocks of condemned row houses? This is the perfect example of Baltimore destroying itself.

Jacobs goes on to assert that, "A diversified mixture of uses at some place in the city becomes outstandingly popular and successful as a whole. Because of the locations success, which is incurably based on flourishing and magnetic diversity, ardent competition for space in this locality develops. It is taken up in what amounts to the economic equivalent of a fad (Jacobs, 243)" Again, this theory manifests itself in Baltimore. How many new Marriots are going up in the Inner Harbor? On the water in Federal Hill, the Ritz-Carlton is building "luxury condos," starting at one mill. These areas are experiencing an economic boost, while areas like Govans and Butcher's Hill are riddled with pot-holes and gangs.

I think that what Jacobs is trying to show us, is that diversity is an important aspect of what makes a city great, and that we should not forego this diversity for the sake of the neighborhood. If the city undergoes revitalization on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, it can never really progress, as some parts will be unequal to others.